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New NSC chief keeps a low profile, but you'd call him in a crisis

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Who will carry the foreign-policy ball at the White House -- chief of staff Donald Regan or the President's new national-security adviser? That is the question that titillates Washington politicians and pundits in the wake of the appointment of Vice-Adm. John M. Poindexter to succeed Robert C. McFarlane.

Admiral Poindexter, Mr. McFarlane's former deputy, is widely respected as a brilliant naval officer and quintessential staff man. He is praised both outside government and at the White House for his intelligence, hard work, and skills as a bureaucratic operator.

White House officials stress the role he played in fashioning and managing the administration's plan to intercept the Egyptian airliner carrying four Palestinians accused of hijacking the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

``He was calm, cool, and collected,'' says a White House aide. ``He's an astute interagency coordinator and superb at crisis management.''

Comments a recently retired admiral: ``He's a very good guy for this job because he has the right profile -- he'll be bringing together the State and Defense Departments rather than being a power in his own right.''

Some diplomatic observers, however, voice concern that Poindexter will not have enough influence to mediate interbureaucratic quarrels -- something even McFarlane had trouble doing -- and does not have sufficient depth of experience in foreign policy. The dominant foreign-policy role at the White House is therefore seen as likely to pass to Mr. Regan.

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